Sunday, 24 January 2016

Diary extract from black pioneer, Alvin Coffey

Alvin Coffey

Alvin Coffey documented his first trip to California in which he played a vital role in an eventful ox-team journey across the Plains in 1849. Coffey was a slave during this trip and saw it as an amazing opportunity to earn enough money to buy freedom for himself and his family back East. Unfortunately his owner took the money that Coffey earned, but he made the trip again in 1854 with a different owner and was able to save seven thousand dollars which he used to buy his freedom as well as his family's.

In his account of his first trip across the Plains with the large amount of cattle, he recalls an ox that became extremely unwell and he was the only one brave enough to kill the animal and put it out of its misery. "I said, 'Let us go out and kill the ox for it is too bad to hear him bawl'. The wolves were eating him alive. None would go with me, so I got two double-barreled shot-guns which were loaded". This shows that Coffey took his job very seriously and cared for the animals he was transporting across the country. Up until this moment, the account of his journey was rather uneventful. He did not state whether or not he experienced segregation and racism from the other men on the trip but it is likely that some form of segregation or racism occurred as it was normal for that time. It's interesting that Alvin is black as it is a known fact that cow boys were mainly African American or Latino and were very different to the Hollywood version of a cowboy we all know from the western movies and TV shows.

Coffey had worked in the Shasta Mines during his sec
ond journey in California, from 1854 to 1857, which is how he earned his freedom money. Because of his huge success in the West, his family prospered in this area and his children married into old Californian families. He is remembered by his relatives today and towards the end of his life in 1902, he became the primer mover in the organisation of the Home for the Aged and Infirm, located near Beulah, California, giving his total income to its establishment and support. He truly was a pioneer during the frontier period and overcame all obstacles, especially those placed on him by society due to the colour of skin.

No comments:

Post a Comment